In his memory, here’s the story of Dennis’s birth…as imagined and told by the Caricaturist.
Dennis the Menace – The Beginnings:
Sometime in 1950-51, somewhere in Carmel, California…
Henry sat in his studio with his head in his hands. It was impossible to visualize any damn thing with all those noises that floated in from the attic. He expected Alice to come barging in, shouting how his son was the messiah of destruction, and how he took after his father…He knew the sequence of events by heart. Unfortunately, he didn’t know it when he had decided to work as a freelance cartoonist.
Well. He was right. The thoughts that I described above had barely crossed his mind when the door flew open and Alice came in huffing and panting.
“His room is in a mess again – and I had straightened it out just this morning!”
Henry knew that the safest course would be to stay quiet and nod, so he did just that.
“Don’t sit there and nod. Dennis is your responsibility too.”
He nodded again.
“Hank! You are impossible, and your son is too.”
“No, we are not!”
“Hank…your son is a menace!”
“Dennis? A Menace?”
And that’s how the idea of Dennis the Menace was born. So you see, Ketcham modeled Dennis, Alice, and Henry on the Dennis, Alice, and Henry of his own family! And if you look at Ketcham’s picture from his younger days, you’ll realize that he does look like his cartoon self, Henry.
Life and Times of Dennis the Menace
Ketcham used to work as an illustrator and an animator. (He also worked with Disney for a while.) In 1951, when he first published Dennis the Menace, it was syndicated in 16 newspapers in the US. Within two years about 200 newspapers in the US were carrying the strip.
For the next 32 years, Ketcham drew all those panels himself – but in 1983, he announced that one day he’d like to retire from drawing Dennis. During this time Ketcham got divorced from Alice (Dennis’s mom) and Dennis grew up away from his dad. Ketcham moved from one marriage to another (a total of four, I think) until his death in 2001.
Anyway, in 1993 when Ketcham announced that he’d like to retire, Marcus Hamilton approached him and said that he’d like to draw Dennis. For the last 17 years Hamilton has been drawing the daily panel for Dennis the Menace. Read about Marcus Hamilton and his drawing process.
The Sunday Page Cartoonist Ron Ferdinand was born in the same year as Dennis. He too joined Ketcham in the early 1980s and he’s been drawing Dennis since. Read about Ron Ferdinand and his drawing process.